AN UNNATURAL SON
THE pretorian guard by this time fancied that they
could have things all their own way. They now elected
and killed two emperors, Pertinax and Julianus, and finally decided to obey a third, Septimius Severus, who entered Rome as a conqueror, at the
head of the legions he had commanded in Illyria.
For the sake of the people, who had loved Pertinax, the
new emperor ordered that he should be placed among the
gods, and that a ceremony called an Apotheosis should take place for this purpose.
A waxen image of the dead Pertinax lay in state for a
whole week upon a golden bed, and was then publicly
burned on a huge pyre. When the flames rose up around
it, an eagle, purposely hidden in the pyre, was set
free, and flew up into the sky in terror. The ignorant
spectators were then told that the eagle had carried
the soul of Pertinax up to heaven, and that they must
henceforth worship him.
Having become master of Rome, and secured the approval
of the people, Severus turned all his energies against
his two rivals; for both the legions of Britain and
Gaul, and those of Syria, had elected emperors at
 the very time when the legions in Pannonia and
Illyria named him for the same office.
Severus first went east to fight Niger, his most
dreaded rival. Several battles were fought, ending
with the defeat and death of the Syrian leader.
Niger's head was then cut off, and flung over the walls
of Byzantium, his principal stronghold on the
When the people beheld this bloody token, they fought
even harder than before to defend the city; but,
although they made a glorious resistance, Severus at
last forced them to surrender. By his order, the city
was sacked, the walls razed, and the people reduced to
slavery; but, as you will soon see, Byzantium rose
again, and soon became the rival of Rome.
As one of his rivals had been killed, Severus now
marched westward to meet Albinus, the other. The two
armies met in Gaul, near Lyons, and a terrible battle
was fought, in which Severus won the victory by his
personal bravery in the face of great danger.
The emperor now went back to Rome, where twenty-nine
senators were slain by his order, because they had
dared to take sides with his rival. Then, to make sure
that the empire would not pass out of his family, he
made both his sons associate emperors.
Severus, the twentieth emperor of Rome, was very strict
in making everybody obey him, and was a stern ruler.
He also won much glory as a general, and fought many
battles in many lands. His last campaign was in
Britain, where he had gone to suppress an
insurrection, and where his two sons accompanied him.
We are told that Caracalla, the eldest son, was so
 eager to be emperor in his turn that he made an attempt
to murder his father during this campaign.
Grieved to the heart by such unnatural conduct, Severus
privately reproved his son, and even offered him a
sword, saying: "There, kill me if you dare!" Although
Caracalla did not take advantage of the permission thus
given him, he is suspected of having poisoned his
father a little later.
Severus died in Britain, at York, and his last words
are said to have been the following, addressed to his
funeral urn: "Little urn, thou shalt soon contain him
for whom the universe seemed too small."